I’m not sure if it’s the way she glides into a room with a sense of effortless elegance and grace or her almost angelic English rose (pun unintended) accent, but Phoebe English is one of the most atmospherically attractive people I’ve ever met (if that’s even an expression). English’s designs are a perfect reflection of her personality. In a rather shy-in-the-best-way manner, she is not a ‘flashy designer’; rather the designer’s details are all intimate, some so intricate “you may only discover once you own the garment”.
English seems to be a complex character. She’s obviously gifted beyond measure in terms of fashion design, but she also comes across as a highly intelligent individual who practices what she preaches. During a year she took out in between her BA and MA course, English interned with Diane Von Furstenberg in New York City and John Galliano in Paris. It is here the designer says she picked up her appreciation for the handmade, handcrafted garments of couture fashion. Stemming from this appreciation, English has a respect for construction rather than decoration. She terms her medium ‘constructed textiles’ and declares that she is much more intrigued in the building and engineering of a technical surface than its decoration. The designer asserts, “We are a strict made in England brand… provenance of a product is very important to me”. It was made clear in our discussion with English that she is aware of how bad the fashion industry is in terms of ethics, “fashion is a business… its not the same as studying art.” English goes so far as to claim that “all textiles are made by hand… a lot actually made by me”
Evident in her Spring/Summer 2013 collection, the designer adds a personal touch to her work by basing her collections solely around her emotional state at that time in her life. S/S 13 at a time in which English felt sad and lonely, she manifested garments that were subtle in detail consisting of bedding-like features in order to create a sense of encapsulation and remorse. Furthermore, English collaborated with a jewelry designer friend in making mouthpieces fully encasing the models’ mouths and set the show in a space that was ornate and empty. However, despite this emotional connection, English works to put herself in unknown territory, “every season I need to push myself into different territories to influence my mentality for that collection”.
English explicitly states that her work isn’t referential and that her studio has no references to fashion in it whatsoever – an odd concept considering she studied at Central Saint Martins to do her BA and MA. However, she believes that her garments should be all about attaining a certain feeling which is what makes her work so authentic. In her first collection, A/W11, English explored the concept of light and how it behaves differently on different surfaces. Through this exploration, she experimented with rubber, a constructed textile that she could work with to make handmade garments and surfaces, and hair. Further, the following collection, S/S12 was a direct reaction to this being fast and energetic in a rather wild and uncontrolled way – very frenetic.
When it comes to retail, English declares that “it is imperative to go to Dover Street Market, it is the best shop in London” and she was beside herself when they chose to feature her work. While she describes DSM as “The fashion mecca of London” she also shyly admits to still feeling nervous about visiting after three years of being their client. Three years later and the designer can boast sharing a space for DSM’s 10th birthday with Louis Vuitton, in which she constructed a ship to signify its journey into the future, and can also claim having produced installations for DSM London and New York.
In terms of choosing a location for her fashion shows, English believes that there must be a significant link between her location and collection. For her A/W13 collection, the designer worked with Rob Storey to create an ‘antithesis of the frenetic.’ She says that the show space is very key and she struggles to design the clothes if she can’t visualize the space they will be exhibited in. In discussing A/W13, English states that she “wanted geometric structure that reflected the tiling on the floor” of her chosen location. In addition to this link, English also makes a point to create a ‘conversation’ between the styling of a look and the way the garment moves.
All things considered, I think it can be said that Phoebe English is a fine example of a successful Central Saint Martins outcome. With her delicate appreciation for the handmade, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the designer choses not to show her name in big text. English was, in her years at CSM, and now remains, a dark horse in the fashion industry. With the belief that she doesn’t have any long term aims for the reason that “(she thinks) if you make a plan for the future mountains pop up. (She’s) just going forward and seeing where (she) ends up… its less disappointing” its not surprising that the designer is doing so well. As an individual and as a fashion designer, English is clearly a well-rounded person who is aware of her beliefs including the dangers of the fashion industry and remains loyal to her personal philosophy. Despite the fact that she is in one of the most competitive industry’s, the designer remains grounded as she explores fashion beneath its surface.
you can see pictures i took for Phoebe English and a blog i made for her at http://www.phoebeenglishdesign.tumblr.com 🙂